Category Archives: Life and Death

The Philosophers Among Us

This morning my daughter and I had to walk to the backyard neighbour’s door and gather our beloved Finnegan, the family dog.

“Um is your dog okay? His skin looks awful” my neighbour asked.

“He has a disease.” I replied “He probably won’t be with us to much longer.” I added forgetting my daughter was with me. The neighbour gave me a knowing look, we said our goodbyes and the three of  us walked home.

I picked Finnegan up when we reached our home. He can’t get up the stairs anymore. Helaina my daughter watched me with a perplexed look on her face. When we got inside she asked “Mommy what did you mean when you said ‘he won’t be with us much longer’?” My heart sunk when she asked. I had been keeping the fact our dog was probably going to die to myself. See we don’t know when, we just know the tumor in his brain will kill him. Right now he is comfortable and I didn’t want to worry my children with the knowledge that his days are numbered.

Helaina and Finn, six years ago.
Helaina and Finn, six years ago.

So there in the foyer I told my daughter that Finnegan was sick and he will die. The tears came to her eyes immediately. Followed by howls and screams of “But he is only eight years old!!!” I grabbed her and did my best to console her. I cried too. My daughter’s heart was broken and there was nothing I could do to make it better. When she calmed, I said to her “It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to cry. We don’t know how much time with Finnegan we have, what’s important is we enjoy our time with him and make sure he knows we love him.”

I decided to take her for Mother and Daughter pizza date after to cheer her up. We then wandered around downtown. She was quiet. Not many smiles appeared on her face. She was thinking and I wondered what to do. So we went to the bookstore, her favourite place, she perused science books while I desperately searched for a story about death and mourning.

I found a beautiful book by Glenn Ringtved titled Cry, Heart, But Never Break. A fantastic story about a grandmother and some grandchildren trying to distract death with black coffee. I got a little teary when I got to the end of the story.  My daughter and I went to purchase our finds. The lady who helped us looked at the book I purchased and gave me a  look with a trace of tears in her eyes.

Helaina and I walked onto the street and Helaina said to me “Mommy it’s good anything can happen.” I nodded, she continued “It’s good anything can happen, even death.” Holy truth bomb. How do you reply, what do you say to such wisdom?

In my case you nod, stand in awe and reflect on the wisdom of children. I so wanted to make things better for her today, I wanted to fix it for her. We can’t always fix it though, sometimes we just have to let them work through it.  Allow them to develop their theories and understandings and listen when and if they want to share their findings with us. Maybe, just maybe if we really listen we will learn something.

“It is the same with life and death,” Death said. “What would life be worth if there were no death? Who would enjoy the sun if it never rained? Who would yearn for day if there were no night?”                                                                                                                                                      excerpt from “Cry, Heart, But Never Break” by  Glenn Ringtved

 

Dead Duck Revisited

001 (2)
Art credit: Helaina and Adaire Gibb

Last week while presenting in Vancouver on the practice of pedagogical narration I decided in a split second decision that I would present my narration on the dead duck. I told myself it was because I wanted to challenge myself and present something new, a narration I wasn’t comfortable with, that I couldn’t predict or expect the questions or reflections that it would inspire. We had a thoughtful conversation about the narration.

 As I was driving home from the presentation I realized that wasn’t the reason. Truth, I want to talk about death. That moment on the beach with the children has raised so many questions.

 Why are children able to discuss it so openly but adults tend to shy away from the subject?

What age do we stop talking about it? 5, 8, 12…?

 How does one learn to stop talking about it? Are we confronted with the taboo, are conversations rejected, dismissed or are we scolded for talking about it so openly?

 Where did this assumption that children don’t understand death come from?

 I wonder how I can explore death with the children in a meaningful way. (A way that wouldn’t freak out my colleagues or families)

 So I invite you to add your perspective, your layer to my inquiry. What are your thoughts? What questions does the dead duck bring up for you? What stories do you have about death?

The Dead Duck

WP_20131011_008 (1024x768)

So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”

“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.

“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.

“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”

The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral.  I place the log on the water and hold one end.

“Should we say something?” I ask.

“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.

As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.

Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.

WP_20131011_009 (768x1024) Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing.  The children start talking about death and the duck.

I ask “What does it mean when you die?”

“You never see them again.” says a little boy.

I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.

A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.

 

 

My grandfather and I when I was two.

My mentor

P8090126
My grandfather and Helaina in 2010.

A couple years ago my husband and I drove my grandfather back from another emergency visit to the o.r. in Victoria to his home in Campbell River. Upon arriving we were greeted by the local home care nurse, who wanted to go over grandpa’s medicines and care. She sat across from my grandfather and said “Well Mervyn we need to come up with a plan for you.”

“Plan, I don’t like that word.” He said.

The nurse sat there looking confused.

“You see” he continued “When I was a social worker I didn’t like coming up with plans for the people I worked with. Plans imply there is something wrong and we have to work on it. What I tried to do was find out what that persons strengths were and I nurtured them.”

I silently chuckled to myself as he continued to school the nurse in strength based practice. My grandfather is the reason I hate checklists, assessments  and learning goals.  See my grandfather schooled me as well.

When I lived up island every week I would make the trek from Courtenay to Campbell River to have tea with my grandfather. We would talk about social justice, equal rights, race, pain, children and love. My grandfather and I would often joke that we were solving the worlds problem’s in an afternoon. We couldn’t understand why they weren’t listening to us. Often at the end of my visit he would hand me a book to read. Don Quixote, Winnie the Pooh, Life of Pi, Jude the Obscure, the list could go on.  My grandfather would share such wisdom during those visits. He didn’t do it by saying Danielle this is the way to do it. He would tell me stories from his days as a social worker. The stories he shared stemmed from questions I was having about my own practice, need for advocacy and life.

When I moved to Victoria my visits were less frequent but in times of questioning I would call him and we would talk for hours.

Saturday I visited my grandfather at the nursing home. I walked into the room and found a frail man, who couldn’t talk. He was happy to see me. He wouldn’t stop kissing my hand. So I pulled up a chair and told him what was happening in the world. I told him about Idle no more, Chief Theresa Spense’s hunger strike, I told him about Helaina starting preschool, I told him about the work Kim and I were doing, I told him about Christmas with seven small children. I rambled on about my belief that change is happening. I told him I talked to his friend Peter. I cried as I told him that I lost a baby just before Christmas and how his son(my father) doted on me. I told him how I wished the world would realize how amazing my dad was. I told him everything I could think of and I tried not to be sad that he couldn’t share a story with me.

Most girls have a box of old love letters tucked away somewhere in the back of their closet, I don’t. I have a box of cards and letters my grandfather wrote me.  From time to time I go through those letters, sometimes they make me smile, sometimes they make me cry, they always make me think, So much wisdom. Today I am thankful for those letters, his wisdom, the tea shared and the school of Mervyn Davis.

“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

My grandfather and I when I was two.
My grandfather and I when I was two.
044

Memories and Experience

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

 

I have a little guy in my program this summer who some might call challenging. Some might call him mean. Some might call him naughty (god help me if they call him that in front of me!) I call him Rory and I am quite fond of him.

I spend a lot of time with Rory. I spend a lot of time helping the other children voice their feelings and concerns to Rory. If I tell him not to hit , it is sure to happen in another five minutes. Yet if the children ask him to stop hitting, he stops. It’s a summer program though, so each week Rory has a new set of children who must learn to navigate life with him.

He has come a long way. On those occasions though when things feel like they are going three steps backwards, I find myself questioning my approach.  Last Friday was one of those days, we had such a great day but the last half hour of the program felt like a gong show and Rory hurt someone.

I spent a lot of time reflecting and wondering what I could do.

Then Sunday came along and I found myself sitting on a church pew saying goodbye to a man I loved. My uncle had lost his battle with cancer. I sat and listened to stories shared by friends and family of what a warm, caring and genuine man he was with tears in my eyes.  

Driving home a few days later, after time spent with family, I found myself reflecting on my memories of my Uncle Don.  I found myself thinking about the times we spent together, what I loved about him and what he taught me. The thing about my uncle Don was this, every time I saw him he made me feel like I was the exact person he wanted to see at that exact moment. He would greet me with a smile and a long wonderful hug. When I spoke I knew he was listening, I could see it in his smile, his eyes and his body language.  I will miss this about him.

Wednesday morning I found myself setting up my classroom getting ready for the children. My thoughts back on Rory and how I can best support him.  I didn’t know what to do.  Then he walked in and at that exact moment I knew, I must make him feel like he was the exact person I wanted to see at that exact moment. I got down to his level, smiled, told him how happy I was to see him and gave him a hug. Throughout the day I gave him hugs and when he had something to share I made sure to really listen with every part of my body.

Today at the end of the day two things happened. One, my manager came and said how impressed she was with how Rory did on our field trip today. Two, Rory came and gave me a hug and told me he loved me.

There are many strategies we can learn from text books and classes but sometimes memories and experience can  teach us something too. Tonight I am thankful for my large family and the many lessons they have taught me. You make me a better educator.

 

My Aunt and Uncle with my daughter last summer.